Oct
11

Aggies would be at a loss without Doss

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UC Davis junior Keelan Doss leaves North Dakota’s defense in his dust on a 65-yard touchdown catch Sept. 30.

Keelan Doss has no business playing football at UC Davis. The talented wide receiver should be putting his hands to good use at a university such as Oregon or San Diego State instead of competing against them. Just ask the Ducks and Aztecs.

More than 53,000 fans in Eugene got a good look at Doss in 2016 when he caught seven passes for 116 yards in the Aggies’ 53-28 loss to the Ducks. More than 46,000 were on hand Sept. 2 in San Diego when Doss had eight receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown as UC Davis kicked off its season with a 38-17 loss.

Such crowds are not possible at Aggie Stadium with a capacity of 10,743. Just more than 8,000 turned out Oct. 7 as Doss caught 15 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in a 41-38 loss to Eastern Washington. UC Davis has surpassed 9,000 just once since Doss arrived in 2014, and that was just two weeks ago.

And those 9,508 watched Doss have 11 catches for 199 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown, against North Dakota. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound Doss has had at least 100 receiving yards in five of six games this season. With a total of 870 yards, the junior has the distinction this week of leading all of Division I (FBS and FCS). Doss also happens to share the Division I lead in receptions per game at 9.3 with Steve Ishmael of Syracuse.

That might surprise the major college recruiters who pursued Doss when he was a senior at Alameda High School in 2013. Most of them lost interest, Doss recalled, when he sustained a finger injury and had to miss two games. Many of those recruiters must be kicking themselves given what Doss has become.

The Aggies never wavered. Pacific-12 and Mountain West conference teams faded away, but UC Davis stayed true. “Davis was genuine in talking to me. It was one of my only offers, and they really wanted me.” Doss said in a telephone interview this week. “That’s the big reasons why I came here. I wanted to perform for this school. I tell myself that I belong in the Pac-12 or one of the other Power Five (conferences). I use that as motivation.”

A foot injury in 2015 also fuels Doss, who missed that season after playing in 10 games in 2014 as a freshman. “It was really humbling. I missed those long days of practice. I took those days for granted. None of this is guaranteed. It made me work harder to get back,” said Doss, who returned in 2016 with 66 receptions for 911 yards.

Doss will surpass both of those totals if he maintains his 2017 pace on Oct. 21 when the Aggies, who have a bye this week, travel to Northern Arizona. Doss can’t wait to find out what offensive coordinator Tim Plough has in store for the Lumberjacks. The former Aggie was an assistant at Northern Arizona the past four seasons.

Plough has aired out the offense since returning to UC Davis, where he was the wide receivers coach in 2009 and passing game coordinator in 2010-2012. The Aggies are averaging 351 passing yards per game after managing 238 a game in 2016, when they were 3-8 in Ron Gould’s fourth and final season as head coach. Another former Aggie, Dan Hawkins, is now in charge. Doss is convinced UC Davis found the right coach. The Aggies have a shot at finishing with a winning record for the first time since going 6-5 in 2010 and have defeated two teams (San Diego and North Dakota) that made the FCS playoffs in 2016.

It did not take long for Doss and his teammates to sense that Hawkins was not going to play the hand he was dealt. After the graduation of quarterback Ben Scott, Hawkins could have gone with C.J. Spencer or Brock Dale since the two paid their dues in 2016 as backups to the Vanden High graduate. Hawkins instead opted to bring in sophomore Jake Maier from Long Beach City College. Five of Maier’s 14 touchdown passes have gone to Doss, who may be responsible for a few others by drawing so much attention from opposing defenses. Doss admitted to telling tight end Wesley Preece that he deserved a bit of credit after the sophomore’s three touchdown receptions Sept. 30 in the Aggies’ 48-24 win over North Dakota.

Be it North Dakota or Oregon, Doss does not measure the caliber of the opposition as much as he does the opportunity to perform. “I’m very competitive,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. I always want to bring my best.”

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